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Administration and Works Committee

Volume 691: debated on Wednesday 9 May 2007

rose to move, That the first report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 74) be agreed to.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the House agreed a general ban on smoking within the House’s premises, with certain exceptions, on 21 December 2004. The House has since passed the Health Act 2006, which will ban smoking in enclosed or substantially enclosed premises open to the public and in workplaces from 1 July. Although the legislation does not apply formally to the House, it would be consistent with recent practice for the House to apply the Act by analogy, as is the case with health and safety at work legislation. The House of Commons shares this approach.

The Administration and Works Committee therefore decided to revisit the House’s smoking policy in the light of the new legislation. The committee came to the view that smoking should be prohibited in all parts of the Lords estate, except in certain outside areas. The committee therefore recommends that specified smoking areas should be provided in Black Rod’s Garden, State Officer’s Court and Peers’ Inner Court and in an area at the end of the Lords Terrace abutting the Commons Terrace.

It is proposed that this new policy on smoking should come into operation on 1 July, when the relevant provisions of the Health Act 2006 are commenced by the Secretary of State.

The Administration and Works Committee, in this report, has put forward a policy which balances the principle of the legislation with the needs of those who wish to continue to be permitted to smoke on the estate. I beg to move.

Moved, That the first report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 74) be agreed to.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

My Lords, I declare my interest as a pipe smoker. I regret that these regulations will come into effect on the parliamentary estate. I realise that I am going against the tide and that most Members in both Houses agree that there should be a ban on smoking on the parliamentary estate. Therefore, I can do nothing except raise my objections to the freedom, which I have enjoyed since I became a Member of this House 29 years ago, being taken away from me.

However, I plead for one thing: for many years, we smokers fought for offices of our own where we could agree among ourselves to smoke and I make a plea to continue to be able to smoke in our offices. Those of us who are working Peers and are regularly here during the course of the year need relaxation and some of us feel that we do not want to give up smoking. Therefore, I make a plea that, at some time, the committee should reconsider the recommendation and allow us to smoke in our own offices.

My Lords, I make no apology for swimming against the tide. I was once a heavy smoker, but I have not smoked for more than 15 years. At the same time, I absolutely deplore what I consider to be the cruel treatment of smokers these days. I do not see why smokers should not be allowed, as the noble Lord has just said, to smoke in their offices and why smoking rooms should not be available.

My Lords, this is a sad day for those who value the freedoms that we used to take for granted in England. I do not believe that the Administration and Works Committee, of which I once had the honour to be a member, had much choice in the matter. Clearly, there has to be equality of sacrifice—equality of misery, if you like—and legislators must bear the full consequences of their legislation, just like the rest of the population.

The Government could have protected the sensitivities and well-being of non-smokers by imposing major, but less punitive, restrictions, as in many continental European countries. Instead, most unfortunately, they chose the most draconian option. In parenthesis, what harm does the Truro Room, where smokers of all parties and none gather for a quiet cigarette, do to anyone else in the House?

On a more practical point, can the Chairman of Committees say what protection there will be for smokers in the designated smoking areas when it rains, snows or hails? Will there be any cover for them? Secondly, can he assure us that an adequate supply of efficient ashtrays will be provided? “Efficient” is a most important word here. Nothing justifiably irritates non-smokers more, in both senses of the word, and also many smokers, than smouldering, tar-filled cigarette butts. By providing ashtrays that extinguish cigarettes immediately—I shall gladly consult the noble Lord if he wishes to know more about them—that nuisance can be totally avoided.

My Lords, this is what one might call the last gasp of the smoking lobby in your Lordships' House. What the Chairman of Committees has described to us as being a new measure to bring us in line with the national legislation strikes me as entirely reasonable. Having passed the legislation with overwhelming majorities in this House and in the other place, it would be intolerable if we were then to exempt ourselves from the provisions of the legislation that applies to the rest of the country.

England is going smoke-free in enclosed areas and workplaces from 1 July; Scotland and Wales have already gone and Northern Ireland has now gone. For us to stand against that tide and imagine that for some reason we are entitled to continue to smoke, to the annoyance of others and, according to the Surgeon General of the United States and the Chief Medical Officer, to the impairment of other people's health through the inhalation of second-hand smoke, strikes me as absurd. It is not true to say that by smoking in one's own office or in the Truro Room one is not affecting anyone else. Who do my noble friend and the other speakers who have contributed to the debate believe is responsible for keeping that room clean and for keeping those offices serviced? By continuing to have smoking inside the building, we are exposing our staff to the dangers of second-hand smoke, and it would be quite wrong for us to do anything other than to approve this report.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former smoker. I shall say two things: first, I agree entirely with the noble Lord who said that there should be some protection from the wind and rain for people outside the main building. It is, of course, right that we should not exempt ourselves from the law. The curious thing about the argument of my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester is that smoking is not an illegal activity. People who smoke contribute a considerable amount of tax to the nation’s wealth, and I look forward to the day when the new Prime Minister bans smoking entirely and ceases the production of tobacco and cigarettes. Then we will be in the society where the puritans would have us go. We must protect our staff and those who clean rooms and so on, but those who wish to continue smoking should have the right to some sort of protection to smoke in an environment where they are doing no one any harm except, possibly, themselves.

My Lords, I had not intended to speak until the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, got to his feet and described people who are expressing concerns as “the smoking lobby”. It is not a smoking lobby; the people who have spoken and I are concerned about individual freedom. It is not a question of a lobby; it is a question of providing alternatives to what the Government and Parliament have decided, alternatives that were available. That was the issue when we discussed the matter in Grand Committee. It was possible to provide for separation with decent ventilation. If lobbying for the retention of individual freedom is a smoking lobby, then I fear that I have to disagree completely and utterly with the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. I hope he now understands that we are in favour of individual freedom and of protecting minorities as well as the majority.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. I shall make the point that the report is very brief and simple. It makes no points on the merits or otherwise of smoking; all it does is to bring this House into line with what will be the law of the land outside it on 1 July. As more than one noble Lord said, having made the law—whether one agrees with it or not—we really have no choice. If we make the law for the great public outside, it is hardly for us to make exceptions for ourselves in this House. There lies the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, about offices. Smoking in offices is specifically banned by the legislation, and, therefore, we cannot do anything else. The points made by noble Lords about the merits of the legislation should have been made, and probably were made, during the passage of the legislation.

As the report says, it is hoped that we will provide smoking areas outside in the three locations that I mentioned. It is hoped that the shelters will have roofs and ashtrays. I shall make inquiries of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, about the specific type of ashtray he referred to because it sounded very good to me. There is a limit to what we can do outside because the legislation specifies the sort of shelters that we can put up. As far as I am aware, they can have either a roof and no walls or walls and no roof.

On Question, Motion agreed to.